Music

CDAS Partners Briana C. Hill and Benjamin Jaffe Named Co-Chairs of the Entertainment and the Digital Media & Technology groups, respectively.

Briana Hill, Co-Head of the Beverly Hills office of Cowan DeBaets Abrahams & Sheppard LLP, joins Fred Bimbler and Simon Pulman in leading the firm’s Entertainment group, which includes televison (traditional to broadband), streaming, film, new media, talent, theatre and podcasting. The group assists clients with their entertainment projects through early development, the solicitation of investment, production and ultimate distribution, securing all necessary rights and negotiating agreements with top-tier talent.

Ben Jaffe joins Joshua Sessler in leading the Digital Media & Technology group that represents top digital talent, including game developers and distributors, digital agencies, production houses, broadband video networks, mobile app developers, podcasters and social media ventures. The group provides counsel to a wide range of social media, transmedia and mobile plays that are using emerging software and hardware technologies to create, develop and distribute content in new ways.

Fair Use in Gaming Content – FAQS For Creators

By Simon Pulman and Mikaela Gross

Fair use is one of the most important – and most misunderstood – concepts in the area of copyright law. It is an important concept for anyone who is using content owned by third parties – which includes anyone who livestreams gaming, creates “let’s play” videos or otherwise uses gaming assets and branding. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation on the internet and thus creators are often unclear about their rights and responsibilities.

With that said, here are answers to some frequently asked questions for creators:

What is Fair Use?

Fair use is an exception to the general principle that unauthorized use of a copyrighted work is copyright infringement. Simply put, if a claim of copyright infringement is brought against a defendant, the “defendant” can try to demonstrate they made a fair use of the allegedly infringed work in order to prevail in the case.

Because fair use is a defense, only a court can say whether a particular use of copyrighted material is a “fair use.” However, experienced attorneys can provide an opinion, based on their evaluation of the use using the four-factor test (see below) and their knowledge of case law.

What are the Four Factors?

Courts look at four factors when making a fair use determination

  • the purpose and character of your use
  • the nature of the copyrighted work
  • the amount and substantiality of the portion taken, and
  • the effect of the use upon the potential market.

The application of these four factors is nuanced and often complicated, but in short, the use of a copyrighted work is not likely to be fair use if it is used for the same or a similar purpose for which it was originally intended or in advertising/marketing materials, uses a lot of the original work including its most important parts (what the courts have called “the heart of the work”), and/or is used in a manner that competes with the market for the original work. It is more likely to be fair use if the new use is “transformative” in that it comments on, critiques, or otherwise adds new meaning to the original work in some way, if only a small portion of the original work is used (i.e., only enough for the user to make their point), and if the original work is not being used to advertise or otherwise promote the new work or use. So, if a video talks about, for example, loot box mechanics or the historical treatment of race in gaming by using game clips as examples, commenting on and analyzing those clips, it is probably more likely from a legal perspective to be fair use than straight game footage.

Note, however, that there is no bright line amount of use that constitutes fair use. For example, you can never assume that “if you use less than 5%, that’s fair use” – courts have found using only a line or two of text or music to be infringing. If you are in doubt, you should speak to a lawyer.

Is Crediting Important?

It’s nice, and may be considered best practices or industry custom, but it’s generally not relevant for a legal determination of fair use.

Can’t I Use a Disclaimer?

In short, no. Those disclaimers that you see on YouTube stating “This is a fair use. No copyright infringement intended” are generally not legally relevant. There is a small chance that they could be helpful to you in determining the damages that you owe in the event that you are found to be infringing, however, because they may bear on whether your intent was “innocent” or “willful.”

What if I get a DMCA takedown notice? And if a website removes my video, do I have any recourse?

The DMCA notice and takedown process provides copyright owners with a way to request removal of their copyrighted work from a website or other internet service if they believe the use infringes their copyright. To benefit from the “safe harbor” from copyright infringement the DMCA provides ISPs, the website or platform must designate a registered agent to receive and process DMCA takedown notices.  DMCA notices must include certain specific information to comply with the law, and the registered agent of the ISP has the job of reviewing and determining whether to comply with the takedown request.

An ISP, such as a platform that hosts gaming content, does not have to comply with a DMCA notice if the notice does not fully comply with the legal requirements for a takedown notice. However, if an ISP does remove content following receipt of a DMCA notice, it must also promptly notify the party that posted the video. That party then can file a counternotice if it believes the content was wrongfully taken down, for instance if the use of the copyrighted work is likely to be a fair use.

Whether you’re a platform looking to benefit from the protections of the DMCA safe harbor, or a content creator looking to correct an improper takedown of your video content, you should consult with an attorney to make sure you’re in compliance with the DMCA’s requirements, and are not taking any actions that could potentially subject you to liability down the line.

Will I Be Sued For My Videogame Videos?

This is where we have good news. Because video game publishers largely view streaming and game-related media to be helpful to their business (under the theory that exposing more people to the game will increase sales), publishers rarely bring copyright infringement lawsuits against gamers. The exceptions where publishers do bring legal action tend to arise in instances where users create new installments of games (what lawyers and courts would call “derivative works”) without authorization, insert other infringing material into games via mods, create and sell software “cheats,” or do something that is offensive in addition to being infringing (e.g., adding explicit or hateful material). In recent years, major players such as Take-Two Interactive and Epic Games have actively policed these types of infringements of their copyrighted games.

This means that it isn’t always necessary to apply the fair use analysis outlined above. However, those creators who are seeking to make heavy commercial use of game assets (other than solely streaming/YouTube video revenue) should consult with an attorney before embarking on their plans to ensure compliance with copyright law.

One of the greatest challenges in defending claims of copyright infringement in the gaming space seems to be the wildcard of the judge’s expertise and understanding of the emerging fields of gaming and streaming. A key defense strategy will inevitably involve a careful framing of the discussion, including describing how the game works, what the purpose of the video is, explaining the meaning of common terms, and the context and communities in which these activities exist online.

Moreover, everyone should keep an eye on the risk factors listed below.

What Red Flags should I be aware of?

While the use of gaming footage in the form of livestreaming and “let’s play” type videos rarely results in a claim, there are a number of uses that creators should be particularly cautious about:

  • Licensed music: Any game video that features licensed popular music is more likely to cause an issue with the game creators and/or the owners of the rights in the music being used. Creators are generally fine with exhibiting those videos on YouTube (which has a blanket license with multiple labels), but uses of music in other contexts or on other sites could trigger a DMCA takedown or a copyright infringement claim.
  • Choreography: Any videos that use choreography or dance moves tend to pose a higher risk. There has been a spate of recent choreography-related claims alleging that games have made unauthorized use of protected dance moves, in particular against Epic Games for the use of short animations in its game Fortnite. Choreography is probably an overlooked area (versus other areas of copyright risk) and thus it is not a fait accompli that the game publisher will have secured the rights, so a video creator could be pulled into a potential lawsuit. Obviously dance-focused games are highest risk, but other games that include “celebration dances” are also a risk. While many recent choreography-related claims have failed because copyright law does not protect simple routines or common social dances, they are nonetheless costly to defend and could become increasingly risky as the law develops in this area.
  • Street Art and Tags:  Videos that include any kind of pre-existing graffiti or tags, or even original designs that closely resemble a pre-existing artwork, are similarly susceptible to a copyright infringement claim. Street artists have become notorious copyright infringement plaintiffs in recent years, and like choreography, game creators may not have cleared the rights to these works. The unauthorized use of graffiti may also raise trademark and right of publicity claims, depending on the context in which the tag is used.  
  • Athletes and other Identifiable Real People: Any gaming footage that includes the recognizable likenesses of real people (e.g., sports games) is susceptible to a claim. This is not actually a copyright issue, but rather falls under what lawyers call “right of publicity” (i.e., a person’s exclusive right to make commercial use of their name [or alias], likeness and other identifiable features). User-generated content that inserts a real person into a game via a mod could also trigger a claim of this type, particularly from celebrities who regularly monetize their names and likenesses.

A Closer Look: Senate Passes Music Modernization Act

On September 18, 2018, after months of intense negotiations with various music industry groups and lobbying interests, the United States Senate unanimously approved the Music Modernization Act (now renamed the Orrin G. Hatch Music Modernization Act, “MMA”), clearing what many believe to be the last major hurdle required for the MMA to become the most significant piece of music copyright legislation to be signed into law in almost two decades.  The Senate version of the MMA will now be sent back down to the House for reconsideration (the House approved an earlier version back in April 2018 and is expected to approve the Senate version) before being signed into law by the President.

As with the House version, the Senate version of the MMA combines three main pieces of legislation, which accomplish the following: Continue reading

Update – Three Music Industry Reform Bills to Watch: Congress Introduces Legislation to Modernize Music in the Digital Age

On September 18, 2018, the Senate unanimously approved the Music Modernization Act, now renamed the Orrin G. Hatch Music Modernization Act, in honor of the retiring Utah Senator – an avid songwriter who spearheaded the bill.  This approval follows its unanimous passing by the House of Representatives in April.  Due to changes made by the Senate, the bill will now return to the House for approval before it can be signed by President Trump to become law.  Public praise of this significant step has poured out from a variety of major industry players including the NMPA, the RIAA, BMI, ASCAP, the Recording Academy, and SoundExchange.  The bill’s supporters have uniformly expressed that such legislation is crucial in the fight for fairness for music creators and that it will also confer benefits on consumers and copyright holders.  While the precise details of the alterations that were made to the Act are not yet clear, many changes appear to have influenced by holdouts from satellite and digital broadcasting services, including a compromise proposal from SiriusXM to pay half of the performance royalties for pre-1972 recordings under the CLASSICS Act.  As of this writing, it is expected that the bill will pass within the next few weeks, marking the first music licensing reform in over two decades. Continue reading

Three Music Industry Reform Bills to Watch: Congress Introduces Legislation to Modernize Music in the Digital Age

In a rare show of bipartisanship, Congress has proposed legislation that would financially benefit music creators who have either been overlooked in the past or are compensated on inconsistent terms.  Three bills –  the Fair Play, Fair Pay Act, the CLASSICS Act and the Music Modernization Act (all of which have bipartisan support) – were introduced in 2017 to reform Copyright laws and bring balance to the music industry.  As copyright reform has gained much traction in the past month, with a House Judiciary field hearing that took place in New York City on January 26, 2018, the three bills represent hope for change and needed updates in the digital music era.

Fair Play, Fair Pay Act

The Fair Play, Fair Pay Act, introduced March 2017, aims to extend a copyright owner’s rights to include the right to perform a sound recording publicly by means of any transmission – including traditional broadcast.  Currently, the Copyright Act affords the owners of musical compositions (the underlying music and lyrics) the right to perform a sound recording publicly, but only provides a much narrower public performance right for owners of sound recordings, limited to performance by means of digital transmissions by cable, satellite, and internet radio stations.  For instance, when an internet radio station such as Pandora streams a song, the artist and record label receive a statutory royalty for the performance of the sound recording, but when that same song is played on terrestrial AM/FM radio, the artist and record label are not compensated (in both scenarios the writer and/or publisher of the song is paid for the performance of the composition, though).  The radio industry has consistently defended the lack of monetary compensation for radio air play, citing the promotional value that radio uniquely brings an artist and record label. Continue reading

Copyright Royalty Board Announces Compulsory Mechanical License Rate Hike for Interactive Streaming/Limited Download Services

On January 26, 2018, the United States Copyright Royalty Board (the “CRB”) released its initial determination regarding the royalty rates and terms of use that will apply over the next five years to the compulsory license of musical compositions in connection with the distribution of physical and digital phonorecords (sound recordings not accompanying an audio-visual work).  The highly anticipated ruling is the result of a CRB rate hearing that was initiated by the National Music Publishers’ Association and the Nashville Songwriters Association International and that took place between March and June of last year.  The new rules will become effective as of the date the CRB releases its final determination, which amongst other things, will include the CRB’s rate determinations for physical phonorecord deliveries and permanent downloads not yet addressed in the initial CRB announcement.  The final determination will result in a substantial increase to the mechanical royalty rate to be paid by interactive streaming/limited download services such as Spotify, Apple, Amazon, and Google. Continue reading

In re: Tam Take Two: Federal Circuit Strikes Down Disparagement Provision of Lanham Act § 2(a)

In May we reported that a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit had affirmed the USPTO’s denial of a registration for the trademark “THE SLANTS” to refer to an all-Asian-American rock band, but had, in a prescient “additional views” opinion, prompted en banc reconsideration.  A majority of the full Federal Circuit held last week that the provision of Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a) (“Section 2(a)”) which prohibits the registration of “disparaging” trademarks violates of the First Amendment, and vacated the USPTO’s holding that Simon Shiao Tam’s mark was unregisterable.

Continue reading

Redskins Redux: In re: Simon Shiao Tam and the Fate of “Disparaging” Trademarks

Last year we reported on the hotly debated ruling of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s (“USPTO”) Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“TTAB”) in Blackhorse v. Pro Football, Inc., which cancelled six trademarks belonging to the Washington Redskins football team on the grounds that those marks were disparaging to Native Americans.  While the district court appeal of that decision remains pending in the summary judgment phase, a new dispute concerning another racially charged trademark has paved the way for a potentially significant ruling by the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit on the key underpinning of the Blackhorse case: the constitutionality of Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1052(a) (“Section 2(a)”).

Continue reading

Stark Victory: Sony Music Successfully Defends Iron Man Copyright Infringement Suit Based on Third-Party Work for Hire Challenge

When composer Jack Urbont brought suit for copyright infringement against rapper Dennis Coles (popularly known as Ghostface Killah), Urbont likely thought he had a straight-forward case. Urbont claimed that Coles’ had improperly sampled Urbont’s “Iron Man Theme” on Coles’ album, Supreme Clientele. Written for the Marvel television program Marvel Super Heroes, the Iron Man Theme served as the theme song for the “Iron Man” portion of the program. Urbont alleged that Coles, along with Sony Music Entertainment and Razor Sharp Records, infringed Urbont’s copyright in both the Iron Man musical composition and sound recording. In order to prove infringement, Urbont needed to demonstrate both ownership of a valid copyright, and copying of the original elements of his work. Urbont seemed to easily satisfy the first requirement: he owned both the initial and renewal copyright registrations in the Iron Man Theme musical composition and, as further proof of ownership, Urbont and Marvel had entered into a licensing agreement in which Urbont is referred to as the “owner,” and Marvel the “licensee,” of the work. According to Sony, however, Urbont composed the Iron Man Theme as a “work for hire,” placing copyright ownership in Marvel, and not Urbont. U.S. District Judge Naomi R. Buchwald agreed, undertaking an analysis focused on the original intent of Urbont and Marvel as to copyright ownership. Continue reading

Inside Counsel’s Five-Part Series, “Where Former Entertainment GCs Go Next”, Provides Firm Profile of CDAS

Inside Counsel’s Senior Editor & Community Manager, Rich Steeves, published a five-part series titled “Where Former Entertainment GCs Go Next” last week, which was prominently featured on the Inside Counsel website.

The series, which discussed the so called “third act” for successful general counsel, provided a comprehensive profile of CDAS and the services the firm provides to clients, while also discussing the appeal the firm has had for former GCs in their transition to a new environment.

CDAS Partners Aileen Atkins, Frederick Bimbler, Douglas Jacobs, Eleanor Lackman, Marc Simon and Stephen Sheppard were interviewed for the series. You can find a link to each part of the series below.

PART 1: http://www.insidecounsel.com/2015/04/27/third-act-where-former-entertainment-gcs-go-next-p
PART 2: http://www.insidecounsel.com/2015/04/28/third-act-where-former-entertainment-gcs-go-next-p
PART 3: http://www.insidecounsel.com/2015/04/29/third-act-where-former-entertainment-gcs-go-next-p
PART 4: http://www.insidecounsel.com/2015/04/30/third-act-where-former-entertainment-gcs-go-next-p
PART 5: http://www.insidecounsel.com/2015/05/01/third-act-where-former-entertainment-gcs-go-next-p

1 2 3